Why human contact is still key in customer service
Why human contact is still key in customer service

(Image credit: Shutterstock / Ryzhi)

Picture the scene. You’ve been on hold for 15 minutes, you finally get through to someone on the helpdesk to explain your query before they realize you’ve come through to the wrong department. After a few rounds of contact center tennis, you finally get your issue resolved by the right team – but only once you have explained your problem a few times. Sound familiar? 

About the author

Simon Johnson, Managing Director, Freshworks UK.

Thankfully, this somewhat frustrating scenario has by and large been resolved by the increasing adoption of emerging technologies in today’s contact centers. Now, queries are typically channeled through a series of automated response options or solved online with the use of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and chatbots. The boundary between humans and robots is blurring to deliver a quicker and more seamless customer experience.

But when it comes down to finding a balance between carbon and silicon, it’s important to prioritize which elements of your customer engagement service will benefit from each. Sometimes technology isn’t always the right approach, despite the perception that it always improves efficiency. Likewise, your human agents’ time can often be better spent dealing with the most pressing queries than simple tasks. So, what exactly is best suited to a silicon, or carbon, based approach?

Deploying the latest technologies

Chatbots are increasingly being used in businesses’ contact center support functions to help agents prioritize the issues that require most attention by automating some of their more repetitive, low-level tasks. Intelligent bots can establish base level answers that can then be passed on to human agents to assist callers. They can even help to answer questions that might be easily found through a series of pre-programmed responses.

Technology can also help to increase a customer service team’s productivity. While we often imagine the support teams of large companies working in call centers and offering support primarily through phones, most businesses now also have the capacity to solve customer issues via Unified Communications channels like live chat and social media. They can automatically assign tickets to agents and groups based on keywords, or even their current workload or skill. Customers can be notified when their ticket has changed status, so they are always kept up to date with the progress of their inquiry.

But at what point does the silicon approach stop being enough? When does the carbon, or human element come into play, and how important is it to the customer’s overall experience of their interaction with a business? A recent survey found that nearly half (44%) of its respondents would never choose to interact with a chatbot, with 27% selecting the phone system as their preferred method of communicating with a customer service team.

The human centric approach

While computers can detect anomalies and provide a list of suggested pre-determined corrections, humans can use their emotional intelligence to work out exactly what that problem is and also the implications this has for the customer.

The old adage ‘people buy from people’ is certainly still true but in the customer experience context, it should be people relate to people. Technology can only take you so far in this and for those departments dealing with complaints, or industries that might be responding to more sensitive issues, like healthcare or insurance, deploying chatbots isn’t necessarily the right approach. This is where the human touch needs to come into play – because while AI can be programmed to be emotionally intelligent, at the end of the day, it doesn’t have the capacity to actually care.

Human agents act as the face of a company and the customer service team more so than others. The professionalism and personable nature of customer support teams represents the culture of a business and conveys an important message to consumers. Disgruntled customers will often want to know that there is somebody at the end of the line that can support them, and human agents can adjust their tone to help empathize. 

Developing an approachable and helpful customer support team enables businesses to establish long-term relationships with their customer base, in turn, increasing brand loyalty and helping to build customers for life.

Final thoughts

Despite the rise in use of AI, machine learning and chatbots in contact centers, it is vital that the human element is not lost when it comes to customer engagement. In the current global crisis, human contact is more important than ever to present the face of the company and show a level of empathy and understanding that simply wouldn’t be possible with virtual assistants. Where technology can play a role is in initial fact finding and solving simple customer queries, empowering human agents to focus on more complex issues and improve the overall customer experience.